Alexandria, VA

Alexandria Police Officer Jonathan Griffin has been charged with assault and battery for an unjustified use of force against a handcuffed resident in January, according to the city.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said that 32-year-old, who was dismissed from the department after the incident, was charged with one count of assault and battery. The charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor and the maximum penalty is a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.

The incident occurred on January 27, and Griffin arrested the victim for a health evaluation, according to a city release. Griffin joined the department in 2012 and was assigned to the Community Oriented Policing Unit.

“While escorting the individual in handcuffs, Officer Griffin used force to take the individual to the ground. The individual sustained multiple injuries on the front of his body as a result of the action,” the city said. “A subsequent investigation found that no force was necessary or justified.”

Griffin was placed on administrative leave on June 3 and was notified on June 26 that he was going to be fired and his case had been sent to Porter’s office, according to the city. His termination is expected to be finalized this month. Additionally, three supervisors who “failed to investigate the use of force promptly enough have also been disciplined,” the city noted.

Griffin was booked at the Alexandria Jail and was released pending his arraignment at the Alexandria Courthouse on August 4.

This is no surprise to us that these occurrences are happening in our city. We continue to demand to Alexandria City…

Posted by Tenants and Workers United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos on Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Photo via Alexandria Sheriff’s Office

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Kamryn Powell is tired of feeling scared when she goes outside in Alexandria. The T.C. Williams senior says that recent killings of black Americans at the hands of the police around the country have made her fearful for her safety.

“Honestly, it’s completely heartbreaking,” Powell said in a virtual meeting with community leaders on Tuesday. “It makes me feel unsafe in my own country. For me to have to wake up and say, ‘I hope I make it back home today,’ is not something I should have to say. It’s not something my brother should have to say, it’s not something my sister should have to say, and for me to even think that is appalling.”

Powell’s comments were echoed by a number of leaders representing the city, including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, City Councilman John Taylor Chapman, Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., Police Chief Michael Brown and the city’s Racial and Social Equity Officer Jacqueline Tucker.

Warner said he wanted to listen and learn, and that it is a frustrating time to be in Congress. He also criticized the president for ordering a recent use of force against protestors outside the White House.

“I used to be governor, but I’m also a fellow Alexandrian and I’m really proud of the voices I’ve heard tonight,” Warner said. “Our system doesn’t always work, God knows. I work in the U.S. Senate right now. I have to watch what happens down at the White House on a regular basis. I can assure you it is extraordinarily frustrating… when the President the United States uses tear gas to break up protesters so he could go over and hold a Bible in front of a church for a photo op. That is not who we are as Virginians, and Americans.”

Addressing Inequities

Tucker said the average income for African American households is $55,800, which is well below the median family income of $118,000.

“One in 10 Alexandria residents are living in poverty, and one in five children in Alexandria are living in poverty,” Tucker said. “58% of our ACPS students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and in some schools, over 90% of the student population are eligible for free and reduced lunch.” Read More

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Morning Notes

Sen. Kaine Features T.C. Senior Graduation Speech — “Thank you to Mathieu from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria for encouraging the Class of 2020 to be leaders and always lend a helping hand.” [Facebook]

Beyer Calls on U.S. Attorney General to Resign — “The Attorney General is the top law enforcement officer in the country, the leader of an agency meant to protect Americans’ constitutional rights. Barr betrayed that mission by ordering the violent and systematic violation of peaceful protesters’ rights. He should resign.” [Twitter]

Departmental Progressive Club Raises Funds for Community — “Members of the Departmental Progressive Club joined forces to raise more than $1,600 to donate to Carpenter’s Shelter and the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority.” [Gazette]

Tall Ship Providence Foundation Shows Solidarity — “Our social media is blacked out in solidarity with our Black colleagues, friends and the community. We believe that Black Lives Matter.” [Facebook]

Virtual Job Fair on Thursday — “Looking for a job? Register and attend a free online event for job seekers on Thursday, June 4, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Attendees will meet the Ajilon Professional Staffing team and learn more about immediate COVID-19 contact tracing employment opportunities in Virginia.” [City of Alexandria]

New Job: Sous Chef — “This position is a hands-on Sous Chef working the line with fellow team mates. The ideal candidate will be able to work independently, create specials and supervise staff when the chef is not present.” [Facebook]

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Fewer arrests, calls for service and inmates in the Alexandria Jail are just a few of the changes the city is contending with as it tries to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Alexandria Police have seen a 42% reduction in calls for service and a 91% decrease in traffic stops since the Governor announced his stay at home order on March 30.

“Due to the inherent risk factor of COVID-19 exposure when you are near others, officers should only be making an arrest when it is necessary for public safety or when mandated by state or federal law,” police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow. “Officers should also practice limiting their exposure to others by conducting only those traffic stops at this time that seem necessary for public safety.”

There has been decrease in calls for service involving assaults, noise complaints and mental health cases, Ballantine said, and an increase in trespassing and domestic violence calls for service.

“In order to limit unnecessary exposure of officers and the public to COVID-19, the Department has modified its response to certain lower priority calls for service,” Ballantine said. “This direction, which provides a procedure for ensuring appropriate response to calls for service, shall remain in place until rescinded by the chief of police.”

Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter is continuing more than 1,000 cases for 30 to 60 days until the crisis abates.

“We have worked very diligently with people across the aisle with the sheriff’s office and with the courts to really try to look at each individual case and err wherever we could on the side of release and trying to get that jail population down so that we’re not putting people in jail or jail employees or sheriff’s employees or anybody at risk,” Porter said.

The Alexandria Jail’s local inmate population is down 44%. The Sheriff limited visitation to inmates from the outside world, except in cases of emergency, to keep out the coronavirus outbreak outside of the jail.

“We’re usually running above capacity which is 338 in our jail. And now we are significantly below capacity,” Lt. Sean Casey of the Sheriff’s Office told ALXnow. “Inside the jail environment, a disease, especially as contagious as COVID-19, could spread quickly, and in such a confined space it could affect a lot of people, so our judicial partners are making an effort to try to keep our facility as safe as possible and we’re working with them when we can.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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A grand jury has indicted Kenneth Whitcomb, a 62-year-old Alexandria resident, on a charge of reckless driving following a deadly pedestrian collision last November.

John Charles Thompson, a 75-year old Fairfax resident and retired Army general, was struck on Nov. 16 on Duke Street near the Alexandria Commons shopping center around 7:30 a.m. Police said that Thompson was in a crosswalk at the time of the crash.

“Mr. Thompson was walking across Duke Street when he was struck by a vehicle operated by Mr. Whitcomb,” Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said in a press release. “Mr. Thompson was hospitalized after the crash and succumbed to his injuries.”

Porter said reckless driving, a class 1 misdemeanor and the most serious charge that could be lodged in the case, is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a $2500 fine, as well as a license suspension of not more than 6 months. Whitcomb is also charged with failure to yield to a pedestrian, punishable by a fine of not more than $500.

“The driver remained at the scene and cooperated with the investigation, his driver’s license was valid, and he was not under the influence of intoxicants,” Porter said. “Therefore, the appropriate charge is reckless driving.”

Maj. Gen. John Charles Thompson (ret.) was a West Point graduate and a 35-year Army veteran, recognized for valor in Vietnam, according to an obituary.

Photo via Google Maps

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The Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney believes that the Virginia General Assembly will pass measures to decriminalize marijuana this session, but that doesn’t mean he will stop prosecuting simple possession charges.

In fact, while Bryan Porter introduced a diversion program in the summer that would allow people to be treated more leniently, that’s not stopping him from prosecuting such cases.

“In other words, the diversion program is my response to the community’s desire to have simple marijuana possession treated more leniently,” Porter told ALXnow. “I support marijuana decriminalization and I suspect that it will pass in some form during this Assembly.”

It seems like a natural conclusion — that the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Alexandria will follow the letter of the law — but that’s not the case in Arlington and Fairfax County. Steve Descano, the newly elected Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, as well as Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa ­Dehghani-Tafti, have stated that they will not prosecute simple marijuana possession charges. Both have moved to dismiss simple possession cases since taking office at the beginning of the month.

Porter said that his diversion program allows people charged with marijuana possession to avoid conviction, fines, and court costs and allows them to have the charge expunged.

“The program is prospective, meaning that someone charged today (or tomorrow) would have the opportunity to have their charge dismissed and expunged,” Porter said. “Furthermore, citizens will be allowed into the diversion program even if they have previously had a charge diverted. My diversion program has been looked to as a model by other prosecutors around the state.”

Sen. Adam Ebbin’s (D-30th) bill to decriminalize marijuana, which is working its way through the state Senate, proposes a maximum $50 civil fine for a simple possession charge. Virginia State Police reported that there were 29,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2018, accounting for 59 percent of total drug arrests.

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Alexandria’s Commonwealth’s Attorney is headed to Port City tonight to talk about the hunt for Alexandria serial killer Charles Severance.

The author talk focuses on Bryan Porter’s book The Parable of the Knocker, the behind-the-scenes story released earlier this year about the investigation, prosecution and trial of Severance. He was ultimately convicted of the murders of Nancy Dunning in 2003, Ronald Kirby in 2013 and Ruthanne Lodato in 2014.

For years, the mystery of Dunning’s murder threw a shadow over the community, and Porter’s book looks at the work investigators did to connect the 2003 killing to the two in 2013 and 2014.

According to the event description, Porter will also discuss insight into the psychological profile of the serial killer that Porter describes in the book as emerging out of Severance’s journals.

In those journals, Severance expressed anger over a child custody dispute and directed that anger towards local government. All of the victims were, in some form, connected to local government, but Porter said in the book it’s more likely that they were picked for living in an affluent neighborhood rather than individually targeted.

The book talk is scheduled to be held at Port City Brewing Company at 3950 Wheeler Avenue from 6-8:30 p.m. tonight (Wednesday). The event is free and those who register and attend will receive a free pint, according to the event description.

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